OIL ROUND-UP: Israel crisis pushes prices up

28 July 2006
Oil prices remained in the mid-$70-a-barrel range in the last week of July, on the back of the continued crisis between Israel and Lebanon, Iran's nuclear defiance and a sharp drop in US gasoline supplies. Spot Brent was trading at $74.81 a barrel on 26 July, compared with $75.92 a barrel a week earlier. US crude supplies remained flat in the week to 21 July, at 335.5 million barrels. However, gasoline stocks fell by 1.5 per cent to 211.0 million barrels, worrying the market.

OPEC held a meeting on 14 July, during which it disclaimed responsibility for the price spike. 'OPEC has noted with concern the strong upward pressure on oil prices of the past few days and wishes to reassure the market of its continuing commitment to order and stability, to the benefit of producers and consumers alike,' said the ministers' closing communique. 'Geopolitical developments, over which OPEC has no influence, have been behind this sudden rise in volatility, and these have come at a time when the market was already out of line with today's supply and demand fundamentals.'

In addition to geopolitical worries surrounding Israel and Iran, more concrete supply concerns are coming out of Nigeria. In late July, attackers raided an oil pumping station operated by Italy's Eni, reducing production from the country's largest foreign crude producer by about 20 per cent to some 160,000 barrels a day.

'Those six days may have been a full-blown Groundhog Day experience, but in a broader sense prices have been fairly stable for more than three months,' said Barclays Capital's weekly report. 'Given the passage of events and the current degree of fog in data, a 10 per cent range over three months seems remarkably restrained. Indeed, over the last three months, perhaps the only important petroleum price indicators to show much of a trend have been the upward drift in gasoline cracks as refinery snafus have escalated, and the downward drift in heating oil cracks.'

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